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Looking back at the Ancillary Relief Procedural Scheme | Part 3 - Jane Simpson

20th May 2021

For part 3 of this series we hear from Jane Simpson, who was a senior solicitor and Chair of the SFLA during the Ancillary Relief Procedural Scheme.

My story begins in 1982 when John Cornwell (now sadly deceased) invited me to help him launch the Solicitors’ Family Law Association (SFLA), now known as Resolution. Our main objective was and is that its members should practise and promote a non- confrontational approach to resolving issues arising from family breakdown and encourage fair settlements of disputes. I chaired the Education Committee, whose remit was to introduce a more multidisciplinary approach to our work.

However good the intentions of SFLA members, many of whom were primarily litigators, we were operating within a litigious system where the Court Rules gave no boundaries to the evidence that could be produced, the questions that had to be answered or a timetable for that litigation. There was no mention in the Rules of attempting to negotiate, settle or mediate. There was no control or transparency for the client of the costs being incurred.

SFLA members were promoting a non-confrontational approach within a highly confrontational Court system.

Meanwhile a small group of family therapists and members of SFLA set up a pilot scheme to promote and offer mediation for separating couples. In 1989 the group launched the Family Mediation Association (FMA). They introduced a mediation training programme for solicitors, who could then mediate under the FMA umbrella.

In 1990 Margaret Booth (then Booth J and recently, sadly, deceased), in her judgment in Evans v Evans, raised her concerns about the enormous cost of litigation without any court control, the cost of that case being out of all proportion to the assets. She was the keynote speaker at the 1991 SFLA National Conference and urged us to address the problem.

So I was delighted when in 1992 I was invited to be the solicitor representative on Senior DJ Angel’s working party to consider new Family Proceedings Rules.

At our first committee meeting we discussed ways in which the court could have oversight of the process in an effort to control the legal costs and the timetable of financial applications and to encourage attempts to settle the dispute at an earlier stage than at the door of the court for a full hearing. I volunteered to prepare a draft discussion document for our next meeting. And so it was that Helen Ward and I, on a train to Leeds for an SFLA regional meeting, prepared a rough first draft of what became the FPR 1996.

I do not think that the task could have been achieved and implemented so successfully had it not been for Gerald Angel’s initiative and the commitment and enthusiasm of the members of the committee: Mathew Thorpe’s experience and oversight, James Holman’s attention to detail, Paul Coleridge’s pragmatism and humour and Nicholas Mostyn’s tech savvy. We were also fortunate to have Lord McKay as our Lord Chancellor, who was committed to the reform of all aspects of family law.

There are two other very important aspects to the success of the new Rules which I should mention. One was the embracing of the new Rules and their intention by the profession. I and some of my colleagues undertook road trips round the country to introduce them to solicitors. My memory is of rushing to catch trains to SFLA regional meetings at far away places, hoping that the hosts could work the overheads and would laugh at the odd cartoon, inserted to lighten a potentially dry presentation.

The second important aspect for the success of the Rules is the role of the judge at the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing, in guiding and encouraging the couple to find an agreed solution to the issues. To be effective the judge needed to have experience of financial cases and time to read the relevant papers in advance. I am delighted to learn about the creation of special Financial Remedies Courts and hope that they will receive the funding they need to function effectively.

Is it really 25 years? But why did the reform take so long? Happy Silver Anniversary!